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Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights

By Patrick Samuel • December 19th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
New Line Cinema

Release date: October 10th, 1997
Running time: 155 minutes

Writer and director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Composer: Michael Penn

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham

Boogie Nights

Often I’ve wondered what it might’ve been like to be an American teenager during the 70s. While it might’ve been the decade associated with hit television shows like Bonanza, Hawaii Five-O and Ironside, as well as movies like A Clockwork Orange (1971) The Godfather (1972) and Mean Streets (1973), it was a time of changing attitudes and bands like The Kinks, The Buzzcocks, The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols reflected this change, as well as disco stars like Donna Summer and The Village People who were on the other end of that colourful spectrum.

Watergate and the ongoing Vietnam War contributed to these changes in society, showing that the American Dream’s façade was crumbling, but on the other side there was the civil rights movement, the sexual liberation and the gay rights movement – all bringing about positive changes for previously oppressed groups. Together with all of these factors, the other thing that was becoming huge in the 70s was pornography. With sex being sold subliminally since the 60s through music, film and advertising, the emergence of porn as an industry in the 70s also lead to the birth of the porn star and this, along with the destructive power of fame and celebrity, are some of the themes touched on in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film Boogie Nights.

Set 20 years earlier it introduces us to high school dropout Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) who lives with his father and alcoholic mother. While working in a Los Angeles nightclub he’s discovered by the immaculately styled and coiffed by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who’s so impressed with the boy he agrees to put him in his action themed porn movies. Eddie leaves home, takes on the name “Dirk Diggler” and quickly becomes a big star in the world of porn with his good looks and well endowed cock, along with his best friend and co-star Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly).

Boogie Nights

As Boogie Nights leaves the 70s and enters the 80s we see things aren’t looking as rosy anymore for Jack, his assistant director Little Bill (William H. Macy) or his porn empire. With his financier insisting on cutting costs, shooting on the newly introduced videotape format and a lack of good scripts to work with, things start to go downhill and we see how this affects several of his stars including Eddie who’s now hooked on cocaine and can no longer get wood.

Unable to star in any more of Jack’s films he decides to try his hand at being a rock star but this too ends in disaster. After seeing his next plan to earn money go horribly awry, we know that with no real skills or education to make anything of himself, it’s only a matter of time before he winds up at Jack’s with his tail literally between his legs.

As a film with such a meandering plot Boogie Nights presents us with an assortment of characters who for the most part are not as interesting as they’d like to be, save for Burt Reynolds’ Jack Horner who can safely be described as a scene Boogie Nights
stealer. It does however reflect on a very interesting time in American culture, one which few mainstream films rarely touch on as poignantly as Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), a film with a far superior script and much more powerful performances by its lead and supporting stars, Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love.

If The People vs…sought to reclaim a legitimate culture role for the pornographic by appealing to the sacred tenets of the American constitution, defining the issue as one of free speech, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, released a year later, contained a yet more positive endorsement of the form, and contributed at the same time to a parallel late 1990s trend: ‘retro-chic’, in which the 1970s – ‘the decade that taste forgot’ – and the porn industry in particular, were rediscovered as an era of innocent hedonism, good times and, as Anderson’s film directly suggested, ending boogie nights down the disco. ¹

  • [1] Brian McNai Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratisation of Desire (2002), Routledge

But when we look at the characters in Boogie Nights are they really a positive endorsement for pornography or is Anderson’s story more a morality tale with cautionary elements attached to it? For example, Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), a porn actress in the film, loses a custody battle with her ex husband when the court finds her an unfit mother due to her involvement in the porn industry, her prior criminal record, and her cocaine addiction. How is any of what we see with these characters a positive endorsement of the form? It’s not.

Rather than dealing with the issues of civil liberties and freedom of speech, Anderson’s film focuses more on the superficial side of things such as fame, celebrity and the hedonistic lifestyle the characters indulge in once they’ve achieved that status. Though at times funny, tragic and entertaining, it doesn’t leave us with anything profound, still with a handful of good performances, including Wahlberg’s, it leaves us with more than any of Dirk Diggler’s movies.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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